With all the hype surrounding the release of RedHat 8.0, I was eager to try it myself. I was particularly interested to see whether this really would be the release that the average user could install and run on a home pc. Regrettably, I don’t believe it is. Reading the recent comments made by RedHat developer Havoc Pennington in reply to the question about the “Average Joe User” only confirmed my belief.
Pennington states that “we should concentrate our efforts on desktop users
that have a system administrator to help them out and configure their machine.”
I agree with Pennington; RedHat Linux still isn’t ready to be installed, let
alone used daily, by the average pc user. There are several points during
the installation that are either needlessly complicated, or require knowledge
beyond what can reasonably be expected of the average user. Following
are some notes from my recent installation.
Network Configuration The average pc these days comes with a network
adapter, and Linux is quite good about detecting these devices. But the average
pc user, outside of an office environment, has only one possible use for this
adapter: a broadband internet connnection. The average user doesn’t have
a home lan and doesn’t care about how the internet works: he just wants to
browse and get email. Consequently, configuring the network interface under
the current system is too much to expect.
What can be done about it? I would suggest a wizard-style network setup,
similar to Windows XP, that prompts the user about their networking needs.
The first step would be to identify whether the user has a lan connection.
If so, then the user can either configure the interface or get help from whoever
runs the lan. The next step would be to identify whether the user has a broadband
internet connection. If so, then RedHat should certainly explore the possibility
of compiling a list of the most widely used broadband providers and the settings
they use for the network interface. I use AT&T, and the settings are
very simple, if you know where to put them–the average user doesn’t know.
Firewall Configuration These days, with broadband connections becoming
more widespread, this is a crucial component for any pc. The problem I found
with setting it up is that the help screeens are confusing.
The default selections are Medium Security and Customize. The help screens
go into some detail about low ports being blocked, Active FTP, IRC DCC file
transfers, DNS replies, NIS, LDAP, etc. As my fiance would say, “don’t care,
don’t care, dont care–I just want to get my email and go on the internet.”
One way out of this mess would be to put off this step of the configuration
until after the user has chosen the basic type of installation and the type
of internet connection. For a Personal Desktop installation with a broadband
connection, the firewall settings should be straightforward. Better yet would
be a firewall with the sort of options provided by Zonealarm where the user
is prompted whether to allow certain applications to access the internet,
whether to allow cookies to be accepted, whether to block ads, etc.
Time Zone Why is RedHat still using this archaic method of setting
the time? Get rid of the UTC Offset and just make it simple: pick your time
zone, set the time, and check a box if you want the computer to adjust for
daylight savings time. Microsoft seems to do this quite nicely, why can’t
RedHat? And get rid of the timeserver option; it just adds to the confusion.
The only people who care about this are the true geeks among us who will configure
this after the installation.
And since we are on the Time Zone issue, after the first login there is
an initial setup. At one point, there is a prompt to set the time and the
date. Why do I have to do this again?
Account Configuration The manual is much better than the online
help. There is some good discussion of administrator privileges and the su
command, although I don’t know why su even needs to be mentioned.
What is lacking is some guidance on usernames. Are they case sensitive?
Are spaces allowed, as they are in Windows 2000/XP? Is there a minimum length?
Some examples would also be useful.
Installing Packages 501 packages?! What on earth for? I suppose
it probably doesn’t matter as far as ease of installation goes for the average
user. But 501 packages is just boated.
X Configuration My graphics card was correctly identified, but the
memory amount was not. I know what it is, but I’m not the average user. My
monitor was also not identified, but it was in the list of monitors.
General Remarks Unlike a Windows install, RedHat provides some very
useful options, particularly in the packages that get installed. I’m referring
to the selection of the type of system being built: Personal Desktop, Workstation,
Server, etc. Moving this choice nearer to the beginning of the install process
would greatly simplify the rest of the installation.
Linux has certainly come a long way since the early days of Slackware.
Unfortunately, it still isn’t ready for the desktop of the average user,
as long as the average user must install it from scratch.
About The Author:
Bradley Owen is a Network Administrator with an academic background in Philosophy. He’s been interested in computers ever since he bought a mail order Sinclair ZX-81 advertised in Popular Mechanics. When he is not in front of the computer, he’s cooking and perfecting his espresso technique.